We return from Highgate Wood with the Owner in a grump. She has been writing on the Sign again, the one she says is a Wrongful Assault on Freedom, and she is muttering about Civil Liberties. Lady Justice Hale would not Put Up with It, she says. Freedoms must not be treated lightly, she says.
This seems a good time for the Moral Dog to plead his case, although it takes a while to get a word in edgeways. Why can’t we go on holiday, I say, when we have already had Covid? We will not infect anyone. We could go to Sweden.
We have been over this already, says the Owner. We cannot be certain we have had it, and nobody else can tell we have had it, so we must all set each other an example. That is Solidarity.
You coughed like a drain and demanded the Moral Dog’s endless Sympathy and Devotion, I say. If you did not have it then I want my Sympathy back. It was acquired under False Pretences.
Sympathy, once given, cannot be had back, says the Owner.
That is Outrageous, I say, do not expect a second lot of Covid Sympathy if you get it again, I say.
I know it is Frustrating, says the Owner, but the purpose of Lockdown is to Flatten the Curve so that the NHS does not run out of Intensive Care Space as they did in Italy.
Why do we not just tell the Ones who are Most at Risk to stay at home? I ask. If they stay at home then the curve will be Flattened and the rest of us can go to Sweden, I say.
We do not know who they all are, says the Owner, and, they do not all live alone. Not everyone who is Vulnerable can avoid Contact with those who are not. We are more Interconnected than the idea suggests. And I do not think Sweden would be very pleased.
If Most of the Most Vulnerable stay at home until there is a vaccine then will that not Flatten the Curve enough so the rest of us can keep working? I say.
And what work will you be doing? Asks the Owner.
Now is not the moment to reveal my Alter Ego, Superdog. I will be contributing to Moral Welfare, I say with Dignity.
Banishing the Elderly to their homes for a year would be Ageist, says the Owner, and banishing those with other Health Problems would be Discrimination on the grounds of Disability. We are all meant to be treated Equally. To Discriminate on Grounds of Age and Health is an Ethical Problem. It is the very opposite of Moral Welfare.
But they are Vulnerable, I say. It would be for their Own Good.
The State’s power to Limit our Freedom for our Own Good, says the Owner, should not be Discriminatory. Why should people not take the risk if they want to?
It would be for the good of everyone else, I say, to spare the NHS, I say. I am sure they would understand, I say.
Perhaps, says the Owner, but it does not mean it is fair to insist upon it. If everyone else has Freedom to decide to go back to normal and risk catching Covid then why should they not have the same Freedom?
Because if they all came out and Danced in the Streets they would overwhelm the NHS, I say.
I rather like the idea of Dancing in the Streets, says the Owner.
If everyone over 70 danced in the streets that would include Donald Trump, I say.
That is true, says the Owner, and could add to the pain. But all should be treated as Equal in a Moral Society. It is Discriminatory to Forcibly Lock Down people on the Basis of Age or of their Health Misfortunes, even if they are the most awful President of the United States ever.
What would you do? I ask.
It does not matter, says the Owner, as I would not decide alone. It think it should be a group decision according to Ethical principles. The Nuffield Council on Ethics suggests Nine Principles, but I think there are Ten. And it is important that the Voices of Many are Heard in Balancing them. We all have our Biasses. Particularly those Prime Ministers whose earliest recorded ambition was reportedly to be World King.
You cannot hold that against Boris, I say, you wanted to be Batwoman. Are you going to tell me what the Principles are?
Of course, says the Owner, Batwoman is good at Explaining.
Ha ha, I say. Can I sit down? I say. Ten principles may take some time, I say.
Not for Batwoman, says the Owner, adjusting her Bat Costume. The overarching principle is of Equal Concern. This must be applied through all of the Other Eight. Everyone is of Equal Concern, even the Prime Minister and the Moral Dog.
I should think so too, I say, although privately I reflect that only One of us is Superdog and it is Not Him.
The first principle is Respect, says the Owner, which means respecting the status of all as Persons, keeping them informed, hearing their views, respecting their Freedom, even if wishing to limit it in the Public Good.
This is why Bungee jumps are allowed, but forcing the Prime Minister to do a Bungee Jump is not, I say.
Precisely, says the Owner, although the Prime Minister has been all too keen on Such Antics. The second principle is Minimising Harms, so one must be very clear that forced confinement is not so harmful to dignity and welfare that it defeats the purpose.
Although, I say, confinement with the Man and the Moral Dog is clearly a Pleasure for you.
Quite, says the Owner. The third principle is Fairness. If older people wish to choose to take a Risk it may not be fair to order them not to do so in order to spare the Health Service. Should they make greater sacrifices for it than I, who have had Covid, or you, who have the good fortune to be a Dog?
I suppose not, I say, although they would feel bad if they took the last Ventilator.
They might, says the Owner, but they have as much right to do so as the Prime Minister. The Fourth Principle is that we should work together as a Community and the Fifth is Reciprocity. That means that those who are asked to lose more Freedom should be supported in doing so, perhaps by us all making it easier for them. For example, perhaps those who are not Vulnerable could Self Isolate on some days so that the Elderly could go out. This also addresses the Sixth Principle of Flexibility. It seems right that offering all citizens some flexibility must be better than offering some citizens none.
I am actually getting quite stiff, I say. I have lost count of Principles.
Two more, says the Owner. What is asked of individuals must be Proportionate to what is Gained. That is very difficult to judge when lives are at stake, and many would say that we should all make Huge Sacrifices in such a situation, yet the longer we are locked down for the greater the price. So some may say that Flattening the Curve is worth the harm of Lockdown, for instance, but preventing any deaths at all may not be possible at a price we can pay. But the last principle is the hardest, and it is that the decision-making is good.
I knew this was about the Prime Minister, I say, I sensed him heading towards me through all the Other Principles.
It is about all Decision Makers, says the Owner. The Decision-Making also encompasses the question of Whose Decision it Is. It must be taken Openly. Those Involved, or their representatives, must be Heard. Evidence must be considered. The Limitation of Freedom, both of the Group and of Particular Groups, should be balanced against the Common Good, with all perspectives considered. That is not what good Decision-Making looks like.
So what do you think Boris should do? I ask.
I think, says the Owner, that he should involve the representatives of the people, which means all the MPs from all the parties and perhaps other voices of those less well represented. When you Tamper with the Law to balance Freedom and Survival you must Never Act from the Narrow Perspective of any one group or ideology, and you are Unwise to act Alone or in Secrecy.
And what is the Tenth principle? I ask.
You must use the Least Coercion Possible to Achieve your goal, says the Owner. Where you can Persuade and Guide that is preferable to Enforcement. The Police, the neighbours and our Local Council must not become Forces of Oppression. That is Destructive to the Community we wish to Preserve. That is why the Prime Minister should write to Haringey Council and get them to take down the Sign that says that by Law under all Dogs have to be on A Lead at All Times in Public Places. It is not True.
I thought we would get round to that in the end, I say. Do you feel better now?
Yes, says the Owner, I do.
Hergest the Hound
I am a dog of many thoughts.